Hey there. Did you love Yahdon's guest post? At least one of you wrote me to say that Jade Chang's The Wangs vs. the World had made it to the top of your TBR list. (Hi, Neil! Send coffee and donuts!) This week's newsletter comes from Leigh Stein, whose memoir, Land of Enchantment, just came out. She has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Allure, BuzzFeed, Salon, Slate, and elsewhere.
Read this essay, "He didn't hit me. It was still abuse," and then this one, "How to End a Memoir Without Getting Married" (my personal favorite), and then get Leigh's most recent book. (Worried about how to manage all of this reading? You won't be once you finish this newsletter. Hint, hint.)
Was it my intention to have two guest posts in a row? No. And it is unlikely to happen again. But I had an opportunity to feature Yahdon as part of the #Literaryswag giveaway, and I had already scheduled Leigh's guest post. And I was not about to pass up either! So if you are a new subscriber, welcome! You should look forward to receiving these newsletters twice a month, usually on Fridays, usually written by me. And if this is not the first time you're receiving this newsletter, thank you for hanging in there. Two weeks from now, I will be back with three recommendations of my very own.
In the meantime, here's Leigh:
I've never had a good answer to the question, "So what do you do?" The truth is I do a lot of things. I write, I run a nonprofit organization and organize conferences, and I teach. I didn't finish my bachelors degree until I was twenty-eight, so for a while there I was working, teaching, and going to school, but "I'm a student" was never the answer I gave. (Unless someone asked, "Where did you go to school?" to which I would usually answer: "Long story.")
I learned to write poetry by reading a lot of poetry, and I taught myself to write a novel by studying novels. Lately, I haven't been reading much literature, but I have been trying to teach myself something else, which is: how to fit all the things I do into the 168 hours available in a single week.
Perhaps you have seen the internet meme: "You have as many hours a day as Beyoncé."
(Where is her Emmy btw?) True, there is no televised awards show for being best at time management, but I'm always looking for tips on optimizing how I spend my days, because I am still living with the illusion that I can do it all.
Here are three books that have recently helped me in my search:
1. Essentialism by Greg McKeown:
"Are you often busy but not productive? Do you feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people's agendas?" Greg, stop reading my diary! Greg really wants us to understand that life is all about trade-offs. No, you can't identify fifteen different priorities and achieve all of them. The thesis of this book is basically that there are nonessentialists (like yours truly) who think they can do it all, and please everybody, all the time. (How am I doing so far?) Then there are the essentialists, who know that's impossible, and are always trying to trim life down to only what truly matters to them. Favorite chapter: "The Power of a Graceful 'No.'"
"The more we think about what we are giving up when we say yes to someone, the easier it is to say no," Greg writes.
I heard Greg interviewed on the Asian Efficiency podcast and have been trying his to-do list method: three work essentials, three personal essentials, every day, no more. Then at the end of the day, you celebrate your wins!
2. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg:
Have you ever read a book and thought, "UGH HOW DID THIS GET ON THE BESTSELLER LIST?" I had the opposite reaction to this book. It's a behavioral science page turner, spanning personal habit change (the enduring success of AA explained), to organizational habits, and even explaining social change through the lens of habits (what made the Montgomery Bus Boycott so revolutionary?). After reading this book, I set up a morning routine I stick to (mostly) every day. I'm still working on my evening routine, but have been inspired by the technique explained by Charles's own experimentalism with his 3 PM cookie habit.
3. Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei:
Okay, I haven't actually read this book yet, but I want to! I subscribe to her e-newsletter and when she said she wrote an article called "How to make a to-do list that actually helps you get everything done," you can bet I clicked.
In closing, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who can remember when getting a new e-mail from your favorite person was like hearing the doorbell ring and finding a chocolate salted caramel cupcake on your front porch (with no poison inside of it), but today checking your Inbox feels more like opening the door to an avalanche of rocks. Which is maybe why I love e-newsletters (like this one) so much: there's something cupcake-esque about an e-mail that doesn't ask you for anything in return.
Thank you for stopping by, Leigh! As an obsessive organizer and list maker myself, I feel a little selfish about this post. So as long as I'm feeling selfish, allow me to point you toward BinderCon, the conference for women and gender non-conforming writers that Leigh organizes and at which I will be moderating a keynote conversation between superstars Elif Batuman and Porochista Khakpour at the end of this month. Last-minute tickets are on sale now. We'd love to see you in New York!